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Community Crusade to Save the Rocket

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

Henry, 4, climbing the iconic rocket at Central Gardens (Rocket Park)
Henry, climbing the iconic rocket.

On 3 February 2021, the City of Boroondara announced their plans to replace the playground at Hawthorn’s Central Gardens, colloquially known as the ‘Rocket Park’. The proposal immediately provoked a huge community response, gaining public media attention.

The ‘Central Gardens Playground Replacement’ is the next project in council’s ‘Playground Replacement Program’. Works are expected to take place in 2021-2022 and involve “new play equipment and nature play opportunities, shade, improved accessibility, renewal of some park amenities, and new landscaping”.

Community consultation was undertaken through a two-week online survey which closed on 21 February. Additionally, there was a drop-in session at the site on 11 February, which was attended by Glenferrie Ward Cr Wes Gault, where the community could meet with council’s Landscape and Design team.

Members of the community at the 'Rocket Park' drop-in session at Central Gardens. Cr Wes Gault is talking to another man next to staff and a woman standing around poster boards outlining the project plans and a tressle table.
Members of the community at the 'Rocket Park' drop-in session.

The council website originally stated that “whilst the current rocket is safe, it no longer meets current playground standards across multiple areas”. Council did not specify their safety concerns nor how the play equipment breaches current regulations, but simply stated that the rocket “must be replaced”. The community survey did not offer the option to vote in favour of keeping and refurbishing the original rocket.

In response, passionate Hawthorn father Simon Gannon organised the community campaign to ‘Save Rocket Park’. Throughout February, the online petition objecting and appealing to council’s decision to replace the rocket reached almost 10,000 signatures. The story was picked up by multiple major state news networks across radio, television, and newspaper.

Simon argues that “three generations of children have loved the rocket”, which is “a part of our social and cultural heritage” that “brings the community together”. These sentiments are reflected in online comments made by local parents and mothers groups, Swinburne students and young professionals, as well as older residents reflecting on their childhood memories of the rocket from the 60s and 70s, some with grandchildren who play there today. These community members argue for the rocket’s iconic landmark status, historical heritage and community value, and its beloved reputation with local children, expressing their opposition to its arguably unnecessary replacement.

Henry slides down one of the rocket's two slippery dips.
Henry slides down one of the rocket's two slippery dips.

Simon explains that Cr Wes Gault has been “very receptive” to the community’s concerns. Furthermore, on 19 February, Kew MP Tim Smith used his opening statement in the state parliament to insist council must not replace the rocket, and that Central Gardens be renamed ‘Rocket Park’ in recognition of its iconic status. Two days later, Kooyong’s Hon Josh Frydenberg MP uploaded a video from the playground to “join the community campaign”. Hawthorn MP John Kennedy expressed that the preservation and safe operation of the rocket should be a priority, noting he is “reliably informed that the rocket is highly likely to stay”.

City of Boroondara have recently explained that while complying with Australian playground standards is standard council procedure, it is not legally compulsory. Council admitted that while “the option to retain the existing rocket was not initially presented”, they are giving “serious consideration to keeping the existing rocket” now that “it has been made obvious to us our residents’ desire to keep the current rocket”. Council noted that, in that case, the rocket would “require some modifications to meet current national safety and compliance standards”.


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